Year 4, Month 11, Day 11: With A Friend Or Two I Love At Hand

The Chicago Tribune runs a piece from Bloomberg News which underlines the fact that, basically, we’re toast.

Temperatures in New York are increasing, and after 2047 they won’t return to the historical average of the past one and half centuries, according to a study Wednesday in the journal Nature.

“Climate departure,” when the average temperature for each year is expected to exceed historical averages from 1860 through 2005, will occur in Jakarta, Indonesia; and Lagos, Nigeria, in 2029; Beijing in 2046 and London in 2056, according to the study. New York will match the global departure 34 years from now and tropical areas will get there sooner.

The research highlights the urgency of cutting greenhouse- gas emissions because the warming climate may drive some species to extinction, threaten food supplies and spread disease, according to the study. By 2050, 5 billion people may face extreme climates, and migration and heightened competition for natural resources may trigger violence and instability.

“The results shocked us: regardless of the scenario, changes will be coming soon,” Camilo Mora, a geographer at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and lead author of the study, said in a statement. “Within my generation, whatever climate we were used to will be a thing of the past.”

The global point of climate departure will be 2047, with tropical areas reaching it earlier.

Sorry ’bout that, kids. November 1:

The report on climatic tipping points recently published by Nature suggests that a “business as usual” approach to our consumption of carbon-based fuels will bring near-apocalyptic outcomes by the middle of this century: devastating heat waves, crippled agriculture, and refugee populations numbering in the millions. We need to recognize that scientists are generally a mild-mannered bunch, for whom phrases like “robust correlation” and “statistically significant” are the equivalent of shouting. These authors are not wild-eyed “alarmists,” but climate experts comfortably in the scientific mainstream, who were “shocked” at the severity of their conclusions.

American history would have been drastically different if the citizens of Lexington and Concord had returned to bed instead of heeding Paul Revere’s midnight calls. Now, the overwhelming majority of the world’s climatologists are sounding an even more urgent warning to everyone on this planet. Will we heed their words , or hit the snooze button — again?

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 11, Day 3: They Asked Me For Some Collateral, So I Pulled Down My Pants

Popular Science notes the existence of Iowa:

At the Iowa Climate Science Educators’ Forum last week, a group of more than 150 scientists representing 36 colleges and universities around Iowa released a statement of action concerning future climate change. Calling climate change a “rising challenge to Iowa agriculture,” this year’s Iowa Climate Statement says that changing weather patterns and an increase in extreme events has put the state’s ability to grow food at risk.

The researchers, who gathered at Drake University in Des Moines, note that Iowa has vacillated between two weather extremes over the past few years. The state went from widespread drought in 2011 and 2012 to the wettest spring on record in 2013 and back to drought this summer. Last year, the group’s report focused mainly on how climate change makes extreme drought more likely.

Iowa is the nation’s top corn and soybean producer, so this state’s problems are really every state’s problems. Combined, Iowa and Illinois grow about a third of the corn in the U.S. The scientists are calling for individual farms and the USDA to work to make the land more resilient in the face of climate change. They wrote:

Iowa’s soils and agriculture remain our most important economic resources, but these resources are threatened by climate change. It is time for all Iowans to work together to limit future climate change and make Iowa more resilient to extreme weather. Doing so will allow us to pass on to future generations our proud tradition of helping to feed the world.

I keep recycling this letter. It’s fast and easy. October 24:

It’s small comfort for Iowa’s farmers to know they’re not alone in facing the troublesome consequences of global climate change. Agriculturists everywhere — midwestern factory farmers and Bangladeshi peasants alike — are reluctantly confronting a future of unpredictable and extreme weather, disrupted planting timetables, and ever-more uncertain harvests.

There are many lessons to take away from this. Obviously, it is essential that the world’s industrialized civilizations begin drastic reductions in greenhouse emissions; there’s no sense in making a disaster even worse. In addition, we need to relearn that diversity is essential to the preservation of our food systems. As the Irish potato famine demonstrated, monocropped agriculture will always eventually fall prey to ecological and environmental disruptions, with disastrous consequences.

There may be differences of opinion about the best way to prepare for the rapidly accelerating greenhouse effect — but one thing is absolutely certain: the first step to addressing any problem is to recognize its existence. Politicians and media figures who deny these new climatic realities are nurturing the seeds of a humanitarian catastrophe.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 11, Day 2: And The Horse You Rode In On…

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel offers Senator Ron Johnson an inconvenient truth or three:

This should not come as a surprise, but it appears that a refusal to recognize reality may actually hurt politicians with voters.

Case in point: Wisconsin’s own Sen. Ron Johnson and his stance on climate change.

Last summer, an ad campaign by the League of Conservation Voters targeted several federal lawmakers, Johnson among them, who don’t believe that human activities are a primary cause of climate change. Johnson, who once attributed climate change to sunspots in a meeting with the Journal Sentinel Editorial Board, has steadfastly voted against regulation of emissions that contribute to climate change.

After its ad campaign, the league did a poll of constituent attitudes, in Johnson’s case in the Green Bay market. The results, reported this week by The Washington Post’s Plum Line blog, showed that a “14-point increase in those who feel less favorable toward Johnson based on what they have heard about him; an eight-point increase in his job disapproval; and an eight-point boost in constituents believing Johnson is out of step on climate change.”

Johnson’s Green Bay constituents are right. The consensus among top climate scientists is clear and has been for years. Climate change is happening. Human activity plays a huge role in that. The consequences of doing nothing could be dire and expensive. Johnson is just flat-out wrong.

I’d love to see more like this. October 23:

While conservative politicians and media figures have perpetrated many assaults on reason and factuality over the years, none offers greater potential for damage than their steady stream of disinformation on global climate change. Many right-wing celebrities may once have known the difference between real and spurious science — but after years of peddling superficially plausible nonsense, no longer recognize the distinction. Unfortunately for Wisconsin and the nation, Senator Ron Johnson is such a man.

The greenhouse effect was discovered well over a century ago, and scientists have been warning us about its consequences since the Eisenhower administrations. It testifies to the power of fossil-fuel industries in the world economy that we’ve avoided any meaningful regulation of CO2 emissions for just as long. But the laws of physics trump the laws of a nation, and climatic reality is catching up with deniers like Senator Johnson. And to the rest of us.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 10, Day 26: Take Good Care Of Yourself

The Bangor Daily News runs a WaPo piece on the IPCC:

If one body represents the international scientific consensus on global warming, it is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations panel that just released the first portion of its fifth authoritative report on the science.

The report’s headline finding is that “it is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”

It’s not just that the planet has warmed over the course of many decades, during which people have released massive amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Among many other things, there is what scientists have called a “human fingerprint” — a pattern of warming in the troposphere and cooling in the stratosphere that is very likely characteristic of human influence.

The authors did not shrink from addressing one of the primary threads that critics have been pulling in their effort to unravel the scientific consensus — the recent flattening of global temperature rise.

This was the hook for some generic media criticism. October 16:

News coverage of the newly issued report from the IPCC is all too often a “balanced” approach in which the opinion of a huge number of climate scientists is countered by the vague assertions of corporate spokespeople.

To cut through the fog and clarify the discussion, we need to understand that scientific speech and writing is careful and rhetorically restrained, while that of our media is sloppy and profligate. Some pundits claim the report represents the views of “environmental extremists” and should therefore be discounted, but in fact, the IPCC’s consensus underestimates some threats and almost entirely omits others, such as melting Arctic methane; the document represents a very conservative assessment of our present level of risk.

And as such, it deserves to be taken far more seriously — for if there is one phrase that we are seeing with accelerating frequency in news about Earth’s climate, it’s “more than expected.” Polar ice melt, oceanic acidification, species loss, extreme precipitation, wildfire severity — all of these phenomena are happening faster and more intensely than scientists’ predictions even a few years ago. By belittling the findings and expertise of climatologists, our media figures and politicians are endangering the health of our planet and the happiness of our posterity.

Warren Senders


Year 4, Month 10, Day 3: A World Of Plastic Hungers

A well-informed citizenry. That’s the phrase. The Washington Post, on the IPCC report’s numbers:

WASHINGTON — Top scientists from a variety of fields say they are about as certain that global warming is a real, man-made threat as they are that cigarettes kill.

They are as sure about climate change as they are about the age of the universe. They say they are more certain about climate change than they are that vitamins make you healthy or that dioxin in Superfund sites is dangerous.

They’ll even put a number on how certain they are about climate change. But that number isn’t 100 percent. It’s 95 percent.

And for some non-scientists, that’s just not good enough.

There’s a mismatch between what scientists say about how certain they are and what the general public thinks the experts mean, specialists say.

Ah well, it was fun while it lasted. September 25:

It’s not only that scientists are as certain of human-caused climate change as they are that smoking is bad for your health, or that some of the people most responsible for spreading misinformation about climate change did the same for big tobacco companies. The really significant analogy lies in the psychology of addiction.

Consumer culture is hooked on fossil fuels; like all addicts, we’ll do anything to ensure our supply. Anyone who’s ever tried to quit smoking surely remembers the phrases they used to rationalize their dependency. “Just one more,” “I need to relax,” and “It’s too hard to quit right now” — all these phrases uncomfortably evoke the fossil-fuel industry’s case against meaningful policy approaches to climate change.

Our civilization’s carbon energy habit has gravely damaged our planet’s health, and denialists’ responses to the IPCC report are remarkably similar to a heavy smoker’s hacking contempt for the oncologist’s advice.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 9, Day 24: Carry That Weight A Long Time

More on the acidifying oceans, this time from the San Francisco Chronicle:

The problem: When carbon dioxide mixes with water, it takes on a corrosive power that erodes some animals’ shells or skeletons. It also robs the water of ingredients animals use to grow shells in the first place.

New science shows ocean acidification also can bedevil fish and the animals that eat them, from sharks to whales and seabirds. Shifting sea chemistry can cripple the reefs where fish live, rewire fish brains and attack what fish eat.

Those changes pose risks for food supplies, from the fillets used in McDonald’s fish sandwiches to the crab legs sold at seafood markets. Both are brought to the world by a Northwest fishing industry that nets half the nation’s catch.

Sea-chemistry changes are coming as the oceans also warm, and that’s expected to frequently amplify the impacts.

This transformation — once not expected until the end of the century — will be well under way, particularly along the West Coast, before today’s preschoolers reach middle age.

“I used to think it was kind of hard to make things in the ocean go extinct,” said James Barry, of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California. “But this change we’re seeing is happening so fast it’s almost instantaneous. I think it might be so important that we see large levels, high rates of extinction.”

Still hammering away on Jacques Cousteau. One day, one day…September 16:

The crisis of oceanic acidification recalls memories of the late Jacques Cousteau, who introduced countless Americans to the extraordinary beauty and mindboggling complexity of the world’s oceans — and taught us, as well, that caring for them must be one of our generation’s responsibilities to posterity.

Katharina Fabricius’s report has me imagining that tough old Frenchman’s response to such an emergency. After a volley of unprintable Gallicisms, he’d tell the world’s industrialized nations — leaders and ordinary citizens alike — that the time is long past for us to shed our apathy and show genuine leadership on climate change and carbon emissions. He would once again remind us that “the water cycle and the life cycle are one” — a fact that’s easy to forget when we are distracted by petty politics and the scandals du jour of an industrialized civilization disconnected from the core truths of the natural world.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 9, Day 18: That Thesis Has Been Proven Invalid

The Press-Enterprise (CA) editorializes mendaciously:

Taking the temperature of climate scientists provides no useful information about the Earth’s climate. Yet the claim that “97 percent of scientists agree!” has become the anti-carbon-dioxide crowd’s No. 1 argument for why climate action can wait no longer. Those who set policy would do better to follow the facts than succumb to red herrings and peer pressure.

Environmental Research Letters, an electronic journal of environmental science, in May published a paper by two climate bloggers. The paper, by, Dana Nuccitelli and John Cook, purported to “quantify the consensus” on climate change in scientific literature. They reviewed 12,000 published papers and concluded that 97 percent of the abstracts that took a position “endorsed the consensus position that humans are causing global warming.”

But the “consensus view” into which the survey pigeonholes papers is extremely broad. And given the buzz the paper has generated, the climate czars in Washington should have had a few follow-up questions: “What does this tell us about the role of humans versus natural variability?” “How severe is the phenomenon you identify and what do you recommend that we do about it?” “What data lead you to that conclusion?” And maybe even, “Who are you guys?”

But no. President Obama — or those who fill his Twitter feed — immediately took up the cause, not only accepting the findings uncritically but exaggerating them: “Ninety-seven percent of scientists agree: #climate change is real, man-made and dangerous.”

It makes me sooooo tired. September 11:

The editorial purporting to demonstrate methodological flaws in a recent study of the consensus among climate scientists is, ironically, far more factually-challenged than the research it tries to criticize. To begin with, the study wasn’t produced by a pair of “bloggers”, but by nine separate authors, all practicing professional scientists. Furthermore, this particular paper was deliberately confined to examining a significant discrepancy between popular perception and scientific opinion on climate change; it is inherent in the nature of such research to tackle one problem at a time.

More significantly, while there are many aspects of climate change which remain still uncertain, human causation isn’t one of them.

In politics and media, pre-existing political orientations often influence “factuality,” as was tragically demonstrated by the buildup to the Iraq war. But science doesn’t work that way: scientific method requires stringent self-correction as a way of getting at the truth. When climatologists all over the planet agree that humans are causing the greenhouse effect, this consensus arises from decades of steady examination and analysis of multiple types of evidence. Widespread agreement doesn’t prove that global warming is anthropogenic; rather, the evidence has created the agreement.

Your column was ill-conceived, irresponsible and without foundation.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 7, Day 13: You Know, I Think I Really Like Vanilla.

The WaPo reported (June 26) on President Obama’s Big Climate Speech:

WASHINGTON — Appealing for courageous action “before it’s too late,” President Barack Obama launched a major second-term drive Tuesday to combat climate change and secure a safer planet, bypassing Congress as he sought to set a cornerstone of his legacy.

Abandoning his suit jacket under a sweltering sun at Georgetown University, Obama issued a dire warning about the environment: Temperatures are rising, sea level is climbing, the Arctic ice is melting and the world is doing far too little to stop it. Obama said the price for inaction includes lost lives and homes and hundreds of billions of dollars.

“As a president, as a father and as an American, I’m here to say we need to act,” Obama said. “I refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that’s beyond fixing.”

At the core of Obama’s plan are new controls on new and existing power plants that emit carbon dioxide — heat-trapping gases blamed for global warming. The program also will boost renewable energy production on federal lands, increase efficiency standards and prepare communities to deal with higher temperatures. Obama called for the U.S. to be a global leader in the search for solutions.

Same planet, different world. June 26:

Whether it’s the heat wave baking the Arctic, the wildfires raging in Colorado, or the rising sea levels that will soon eliminate island nations from the map altogether, the warning signals of runaway climate change are unequivocal. Naturally, environmentalists (and sensible people everywhere) are pleased with the President’s uninhibited use of the bully pulpit in his recent address on climate change. However, Mr. Obama’s unambiguous articulation of the crisis must be understood in two very different contexts.

Politically, the speech was a bold and dramatic warning shot to conservative lawmakers, and a recognition of the potentials of unilateral executive action.

From a climatological perspective, however, Mr. Obama’s address was an exercise in cautious incrementalism, understating both the magnitude and urgency of the danger.

And therein lies the problem. When the calm statement of undisputed scientific facts is too extreme to be politically palatable, our governance is clearly, perhaps fatally, broken.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 6, Day 20: Contending In Vain

The Sydney Morning Herald notes that island nations have more than rising seas to worry about:

The delegation of parliamentarians from four tropical Pacific Islands nations braved the Canberra cold last week, and that wasn’t the only climate shock they suffered.

They watched the impressive intellectual exchange of question time in the House of Representatives on Wednesday and then moved on. But almost as soon as they left, Parliament started to debate a motion on whether the science of man-made climate change was real. This came as a bit of a jolt to the legislator visiting from Kiribati, a country of about 100,000 people on 33 small, low-lying islands strung along 5000 kilometres of the equator.

“Climate change is real in our places,” Rimeta Beniamina, a government MP and vice-chairman of his parliament’s climate change committee, told me, expressing surprise at what was going on in the chamber a few metres away.

“A few years ago it was not taken very seriously. But now quite a few villages are experiencing hardship. Beaches are eroding, houses are falling down, crops are damaged and livelihoods are destroyed.

“The intrusion of salt water is very evident. The sea level may be rising millimetres a year, but it is still rising. The strong winds and rising tides are the worst part. Once the salt water enters the land, that’s it. Trees are falling along the coast, crops dying, pigs and chickens are affected.”

Finding the link for sending letters to the SMH was a nightmare all its own. June 5:

For Kiribati, the tiny Pacific island which now faces submergence beneath ominously rising seas, and whose entire carbon footprint is probably not much larger than that of a single wealthy Western consumer, rejecting the overwhelming evidence of global warming is an impossible absurdity. It is telling that nowhere but in the developed world do we find the institutionalized denial of climate science; nowhere but among the nations whose profligate greenhouse emissions triggered the problem in the first place.

Climate denialism is heavily underwritten by corporations with enormous economic interests built on a fossil-fuel-based economy. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been poured into the coffers of a complaisant media and political establishment to perpetuate the myth that the science of climate change “isn’t settled.” For the world’s island nations, to suggest that the reality of climate change is still an unanswered question is to add gross insult to profound injury.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 6, Day 14: Whistling Past The Graveyard

Even some Republicans are starting to pay attention. The Weirton Daily Times (WV) reports:

FAIRMONT – A Republican congressman sought common ground in the climate change debate Thursday but found the same clash of science and ideology that paralyzes Washington had followed him to West Virginia, a state long built on fossil fuel production.

For more than three hours, U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-Wheeling, quizzed a panel of national experts – only about half of them scientists – about the causes of global warming and what to do about it. McKinley has long questioned the science behind global warming. He now acknowledges climate change is occurring but is not convinced human activity is to blame.


…professor John Christy, director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, called affordable energy “the basis of our standard of living today.”

While reducing CO2 emissions may or may not affect climate change, Christy said he’s certain it would raise energy costs.

“I’ve lived in Africa, and I can assure you that without energy, life is brutal and short,” Christy said. “…We are not bad people because we produce carbon dioxide.”

Well, I’m sure glad to hear that. May 31:

In arguing against the regulation of greenhouse emissions, Professor John Christy’s asserts that our current standard of living is built around affordable energy, and that emissions reductions would likely raise the costs of power around the world, an assumption which crumbles upon examination.

Oil and coal are “affordable” energy sources — first, because both receive massive federal subsidies, and second, because fossil energy’s “externalities,” such as safety enforcement, disaster cleanup, quality control, public health impacts, leak repair, and climatic effects (not to mention a host of rather expensive wars) are also absorbed by the government. That is, citizens twice pay the government to keep fuel prices low (and if that makes no sense to you, you’re not alone).

Christy goes on to say “…We are not bad people because we produce carbon dioxide.” That was true enough when we didn’t have the facts about the greenhouse effect and its likely consequences for our civilization. But those days are past. The facts are in, and now we know: continuing to accelerate our CO2 emissions is to ensure that as they struggle for existence on a planet heated into climate chaos, our descendants will think of us in less generous terms.

Warren Senders